Sermon Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Princeton 4.6.2014
Text: John 11:1-45, Ezekiel 37:1-14
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
We’re in the fifth week of Lent! Almost there. We’ve almost made it. But we’re not there yet.
The gospel reading is an incredible literary work. (And a long passage.) This unit comes as a summative capstone to the first half of the book of John, called the Book of Signs. In the first half of his gospel, John describes seven signs revealing the divine and messianic nature of the character of Christ. Here in this final sign, we have Jesus pronouncing that he is the resurrection — that all who live and believe in him will never die. Then he proves this claim has a bearing in the here and now, this physical world by raising Lazarus from the dead. In this story, Jesus also shows his humanity, in verse 35, we are told, “Jesus began to weep.” Jesus is not some empty shell of a human that does not feel emotion. He indeed is able to suffer grief, and he grieves for the death of his friend.
But as great as this story is in its literary beauty, its symbolism, and narrative impact, the story leaves a lot of questions when considered in light of our modern situation. That’s great that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Fantastic. But, like Martha, I am quick to say, I know that this means that at the end, the eschaton, when Jesus returns, then all will rise again in Christ. I want to categorize it as the same kind of prophetic vision that Ezekiel has of the dry bones. This isn’t something that’s going to happen now, but it will happen at the end of time. Or it’s just an allegory for receiving spiritual life. So what bearing does this story have in our lives today? Is it just to inspire us to hope in the future resurrection? To give us hope in an afterlife?
Why did Jesus choose to heal Lazarus? Why did Jesus choose not to raise others? Sure Jesus loved Lazarus, but doesn’t Jesus love other people, too? What about my friend Alex who drowned in the summer before my sophomore year of college? He loved Jesus, and I’m sure that Jesus loved him. What about those on the Malaysia Flight 370? Some of you may know that last April I was blocks from the finish line at the Boston marathon, watching my dad cross only four minutes before the bombs exploded. My dad was fine, but what about Martin William Richard, the eight year old boy, who almost one year ago died in the Boston marathon bombing?
Where was Jesus then? I, like Martha, want to accuse God, saying, I know that if you, Jesus, had been here, these would not have died. But they did die. And Jesus has not raised them from the dead. So where is this resurrection and life. Do we only get to experience the hope in a future resurrection at the end of time?
Where is God now? And I’m going to be honest. I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. But I do have some ideas.
A few years ago, my family went with several other family friends to go skiing in Colorado. And while we were there, one of my good friends, John, was tubing down a mountain, lost control, and hit his head on a tree. One of the dads who was there was a police officer and a trained EMT, and when he checked for signs of vitals, he found none. The ambulance came with the paramedics, took John away, and the rest of us sat and prayed. Later, we got a call from John’s parents at the hospital that John had strong vitals and was even awake. He had suffered memory loss and a severe concussion, but he was alive. I don’t know what qualifies as a miracle. I can’t definitively say that I know that God was supernaturally at work here. But what I can say is this: I thought my friend was dead, and now he lives.
There are lots of stories like that in my life. Not very many are quite as dramatic. But all the same, like the man born blind in last week’s scripture, where I once saw darkness and death, I now see light and life. Sometimes you have to look hard. Sometimes the light is dim. But I think it’s there.
And that’s the message for us from today’s Scripture. Is God going to raise everyone we love from the dead? Not immediately. But sometimes God does act in this world. God has not abandoned us. Throughout life, if we have eyes to see, we can see the glimpses of these Lazarus moments where God acts in surprising ways, revealing the presence of God’s kingdom here in our world. And sometimes there are seasons in our life where those moments are hard to see. Or it seems like those moments aren’t there to see at all.
And though it may seem like God doesn’t care, though it may seem like God is not present, this story tells us that Jesus does indeed care. Jesus weeps over the death of his friend. He enters into mourning with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. Jesus’ heart breaks over the deaths of the ones he loves. And Jesus’ heart breaks over the loss, destruction, and death at work in this present darkness.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Sometimes the life we find in Christ is physical, psychological, or spiritual life, healing and strength in our personal lives. But sometimes, for whatever reason, we don’t see God’s healing presence immediately at work in certain situations in our lives. I don’t have the answer to that. I can’t tell you that there’s some meaning in your suffering. I can’t tell you there’s meaning in death. I will not tell you that your loss is for the glory of God. I don’t know why it seems Jesus absents himself and lets death overtake the ones we love. I can’t tell you why we have to wait for the final resurrection for perfection and paradise.
But what I can tell you is this: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. There will be a day when all suffering will end. There will be a day when life will reign into eternity and light will completely overtake darkness. But that day is not here. And while we wait, we do not have a distant God who does not understand our suffering, but we have a God who mourns with us the deaths of our loved ones. We have a God who weeps over the deaths of friends.
And it is to this God, who weeps with us in our suffering, that we pray for light and life. I am not satisfied with the darkness in this world. And neither is God. Therefore let us pray for God’s kingdom to increase here in our world, and work together as bearers of light and life, trusting in the resurrection and life of Christ our Savior.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.